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Mong women of Mai Chau: Folk Ballads and Betel Nuts


Smiling ear to ear and ecstatically happy to see me, they heckled me over to join them waving a bottle of something alluring above their heads. Before I sat down my tea cup was filled with a black liquid and Chúc sức khoẻ was cheered in the air. The ladies were obviously in the prime of their life and enjoying each other’s girly company on a hot and hazy day. The reasonably pleasant tasting black liquor was some kind of home brew made from herbs and rice wine. It wasn’t their first, nor would it be our last.

 Girls will be girls, they were just as intrigued by me as I was by them. The majority of a our time together was spent giggling as we communicated with a combination of charades and pigeon English and Vietnamese, they pointed at my wedding finger and rocked their arms together to ask if I was married and had children. I pointed at my motorbike and showed them my route on the map around Vietnam. They on the other hand would converse between each other by singing back and forth. The conversation consisted of a mixture of normal questions before one by one they would start singing melodies to each other, this was truly enchanting to witness and I managed to capture some of this on video.

Mong Cultural Costume
Simply but stylishly dressed in their traditional Mong Cultural costume, their outfits consisting of a ankle length black wrap skirt, collarless shirt and brocade woven sash wrapped 2 or 3 times around their waist too chest. The finishing touches were simple silver chains, trinkets and jewellery.

mong ethnic women mai chau vietnam haute culture fashion

mong ethnic women mai chau vietnam haute culture costume

Black Beauty
Three out of four of women had thick glossy black stained teeth. Seen in Mong and many other Asian ethnic cultures as a symbol of beauty and the result of teeth lacquering and excessively chewing Betel Nut over many years. Just as I noticed this up close for the first time one of the women pulled out a small bag and emptied the contents on the table. She composed 3 small piles of green leaf, what looked like a stick of red wood and slices of some kind of citrus fruit. She then pulled out a pill box and with a rusty old nail and scrapped a white power onto each leaf before folding it up and offering it around the table through the medium of song.

mong ethnic women mai chau vietnam haute culture betel nut

Trying the Betel Nut
So I thought that looks dodgy (especially the white power bit) but how often do you get offered something like this? Sod it. I was inquisitively obliged. I noms away at the bizzare tasting concoction in the name of research. Minutes later I feel my mouth both burning and going very very numb, im also begining to feel a slight rush to the head and my heart beating pretty quick. This kinda freaked me out, but when I looked around the table the rest of the women were chopping it down like a casual piece of candy.

I stuck it out and chewed away carefully making sure not to swallow the contents and held it against the side of my cheek, where I swear it was burning away at the flesh. After 5 minutes I eventually baled and spat it out in the bathroom bin along with my bright red salvia from the Betel Nut juice. My mouth was red raw and stinging like mad. When I returned to the table the women who were still laughing there heads off poured me a much bigger drink, this took the edge of my paranoia about what the hell I’d just swallowed.

After that that the women wanted to get on their way but not before insisting we had a some group selfies and photos together before giggling all the way out of the village. They were so ace and really made my time unforgettable in Mai Chau.


mong women mai chau haute culture vietnam

Who else has been to Mai Chau? Did you see these women and try Betel Nut? Let me know, i would love to here your story in the comments below.

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